The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lebh Shomea: Lessons Learned.

Lebh Shomea: Lessons Learned.

So maybe lessons learned is too definitive. Lessons in the process of being learned might fit better because I seem to come back around to these lessons like seasons of the year. Again I learn or relearn is that I am doing too much that doesn’t matter, last or make a difference.

Inside the Sacred Heart Chapel
One day in community silent prayers I was convicted by something I read in the Gospel of John. Each day at 5pm people gather in the Sacred Heart Chapel and sit in silence until the dinner bell rings. Hunger leads to more effective prayer. I was meditating on what Jesus said about being bread of life, he cautions me not to work for food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life. This hits home because I like to cook so much, even knowing that this effort is just for this meal; I like to play music with other musicians, knowing the songs do end, concerts do conclude; and so much of the weekly work I do for the church goes in the recycling bin because we done with it, its all food that spoils.

The Dinner Bell
Except for the relationships – the people at the dinner table, the musicians in the band, those who gather to worship, these are the relationships nurtured. It seems to me that it can’t all be food that endures to eternal life, there must also be some food that spoils, that is the tyranny of the urgent.

We have some coffee mugs from my first church, ones so old that now there is just faint reminder of their design. We were so proud of these mugs when they came out, and we worked so hard to get the design right. Those were the early days of that church when we really didn’t know who we were, or what we were becoming, and so much effort went into coffee mugs, webpages, bulletins, publications, none of which survive to this day.

What survived are the relationships, and yet what I spend the majority of my time on was the stuff that didn’t; didn’t last, matter, or make a difference.

It is like I have placed the importance on the coffee mug, but what really matters is what goes in it… the coffee. We need both, without the coffee its just a mug, and without mug, we don’t get the coffee. There is a balance between the mug, how it feels in the hand, and against the lips, together they complements the experience of drinking coffee, but in the end, it is the coffee, not the mug that is its reason for being. At Lebh Shomea instant is the only coffee available, so maybe I’m just jonesing for a real cup o’ joe.

Dining Room
I think this coffee-mug metaphor fits well with what I have come to understand this time as the mission of the church (that is why we do what we do):
Make Disciples
Disciple Believers
Wash more Feet
Understanding that to …
Make Disciples means to introduce Jesus to people in a positive way by who we are, and what we do with the end goal being of God becoming real to those whom we have introduced to Jesus to. But it does not end with the making disciples.

Disciple Believers means that we provide opportunities and the expectation that people will grow in their faith and understanding of the faith practices by connecting them to other believers. Together, communities are formed that gather for prayer and to study the Bible. I struggle with using the word believers, as if I am limiting it, confessionally, to professing Christians. I guess what I mean is that the leaders of the community would be believers, so that its focus always remains God-centered. Churches and Small Groups have a tendency to become self absorbed, inwardly focused and so the third component and so they need opportunities to look outside themselves.

Wooden Cross at the Cowboy Cemetery
Wash Feet or Wash More Feet means that there are opportunities and an expectation that the church will to serve others inside and outside its community, in either service or mission. Defining mission as something we do for non-believers (as the hands and feet of Christ), and service as something we do for believers (as their community of faith). I’m not sure if the word more is needed, but it does place the expectation that the church will ever increase its efforts in serving others.

By attending to all three (Make Disciples, Disciple Believers, Wash more Feet) God’s church helps people work out their own salvation. Salvation, I’ve seen in my readings this week, means more than just a single salvific or justifying moment that awakens our faith (and “saves” us). Salvation means becoming whole, and sanctification is that process or journey to which all believers are called to, one that leads toward their wholeness. Faith is but one component that journey, and seeking wholeness includes a faith that seeks understanding, that connects to a community, that putting their faith into action, that lives to make a difference, a difference that matters, and whose efforts ultimately last beyond themselves.

Sunset from the Tower of The Big House

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lebh Shomea: Listening

Lebh Shomea: Listening

The first thing I realize is how cluttered my life has become, our house, my office, my calendar, my thoughts. The rule of the house Lebh Shomea suggests that we keep our rooms uncluttered, in line with the beauty and stark simplicity of the place. In the silence, great conversations are held in as I alternate books, a chapter of Love Wins,(Rob Bell-2011) then a chapter of Healing Everywhere, (John Banks-1966); read in one setting without distraction or interruption. And then the conversations begin as I listen to these two authors separated by 45 years. Both speak to this concept of salvation, but in much broader terms than we in the church do. Rather than a single salvific moment that awakens our faith (and saves us), salvation could mean wholeness, a process or journey that leads toward wholeness, in which our faith is just a component.

Lebh Shomea is a place where concepts gain clarity. It is the place when I was serving my first church that the guiding principals of

Grow the Kingdom
Become more Christ-like

were realized. It was like God was saying “Steve, I know you’re not the brightest bulb in the box, and so I’m going to make it real simple for you, just have your church do these two things: Grow the Kingdom and become more Christ-like.” I brought this idea back to the church staff and leaders and asked them, so what do you think? I spoke with my mentors asking them if they could see any problem with these twin ideals. After a few years the church warmed up to these guiding principals and the idea took root, and remains today.

Its also this place where the silence of 2004 taught me the proper ordering of life,

and Everything else.

I council young soon-to-be-marrieds on this rule, that everything else is anything else that isn’t God and Family, so its your job, career, truck, guitar, previous life… and if you change this ordering and put anything else above God and Family, you are choosing to make it difficult for God to bless your lives together. Priorities.

The silence brings on an evaluative or contemplation of what one has done with their life, especially in the realization that the time I have left on this earth is less than the time I have already lived. It becomes natural to wonder what difference have I really made? The computer games I wrote after college only lasted a few years, the research I did at after that, who knows, there is some of my imbedded systems code running around on our fleet of subs, and then all the long hours spent serving the church. What have I to show for it? It’s vanity of vanities, as the author of Ecclesiastes (chapter 1) wrote. More and more I realize the only things that last are the relationships I’ve built with people, or as my supervising pastor used to say “Its all about relationships, Steve”. But relationships are hard to quantify, and they take time, and there is noting to point to or admire, and say job well done until the time to nurture them has long passed.

It is also the place that I began to understand the true mission of the church, at least as I see it. Now I know we say the mission of the United Methodist Church is to

Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,

where disciple is used as a noun, and we measure those nouns by counting the number of people who made a first-time confession of faith, or are baptized. So one measure of our effectiveness in this mission statement might be to divide the number of new disciples by our annual budget, and it comes out to something close to $50,000/disciple  made (using 2009 figures, the grand total paid was $103,378,852, and in that same year 2099 professions of faith were recorded). I know that is crude, but if making disciples is our mission, then someone needs to say…we are not very efficient at it.

We need a broader definition of what disciple means. Instead of making disciples, the church could disciple people, using the word as a verb. Instead of the single event of making a disciple, it becomes a process where we disciple people; understood as a process, a journey toward wholeness. And so what I heard in the silence of 2005 was that the mission of the church (that is why we do what we do) could be:

Connect people to God
Connect people to those around them
Connect people to the lives they were created to live.

In other words, to help individual people connect to the divine, to be in community, to work towards living more fulfilling lives. Individually and collectively, we work toward this mission by attending worship, by being active in a Small Group, and by serving in some way that helps another person. Its not a radio button, or multiple choice, its all three, and when we understand and set the expectation that people in this tribe are on a shared journey that is always leading us to connect with God, to the people around us, and the lives God created us to live. Only by attending to all three do we seek the wholeness that is our salvation. But it’s a hard sell and few have caught this vision for the mission for the church. Maybe the connecting language doesn’t pay enough homage to the traditional mission of the institutional Methodist church, the whole make disciples thing. So this year the silence of 2011 brought me a refinement:

Make Disciples,
Disciple People,
Wash more Feet.

If we the church could just do those three things, maybe God would bless our efforts.

Next: Lessons Learned.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Lebh Shomea House of Prayer: Introduction

[The Big House]

Lebh Shomea House of Prayer: Introduction

It’s been a lifetime since my last visit to Lebh Shomea. When I was here last (November 2005), I received a txt from Suzanne, that we might be moving to Africa. Suzanne had just passed the first stage of three in the Fulbright process. Here it is five years, six months later and it is good to be back.

Lebh Shomea House of Prayer is a “House,” a “Community.” and a “School” of Prayer, a place of silence and solitude I have come to before.

Day begins at 6:30am when the bell rings awakening you for the daily celebration of Eucharist, followed by breakfast, lunch, silent prayers, and dinner. All in silence except for the spoken prayers that began the day.

The silence begins to work on me as soon as I arrive shifting from whatever panic brought me here, to the peace the place eventually brings. The name Lebh Shomea is Hebrew for listening heart. Each day sees guests arriving as humans beings on a spiritual journey, leaving days, weeks as into spiritual beings on a human journey.

Little changes in this place, especially in the breakfast and dinner menus, which are very simple. The Lunch, which is the main meal of the day, is always interesting cooked from what the ranch produces, and with the ranch hands and staff joining us, so lots of new faces.

By day two the silence is settling in, and by the fourth, complete conversations are had with nary a spoken word. What would the silence be like for those who come longer than a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime? For me 9 days will be enough, though I am intrigued by a longer 40 day wilderness experience.

[my room on the third floor of the Big House]

What - you’re not happy to see us?”

On Sunday the silence breaks between noon and 1pm when speakng is allowed at Lunch. Conversation is lively as we quickly learn the names of the friends we only know as faces from sharing worship and meals. Then a quick trip to the “beach” is organized for the afternoon. Beach is a generous term, but it is a welcome change from the silence of the Big House and there is more time to ponder, so what brought you to Lebh Shomea. And then Sunday afternoon comes, the enforced silence returns, and I miss the companionship. It think of Eat, Pray, Love (the book, not the movie), when everything is going well for Liz in Italy and then depression and loneliness …

They come upon me all silent and menacing like Pinkerton Detectives, and they flank me – Depression on my left, Loneliness on my right. They don’t need to show me their badges. I know these guys very well. We’ve been playing a cat-and-mouse game for years now. Though I admit that I am surprised to meet them in this elegant Italian garden at dusk. This is no place they belong.

I say to them, “how did you find me here? Who told you I had come to Rome?”

Depression, always the wise guy, says, “what – you’re not happy to see us?”

I am lonely after the day’s festivities, I had worked so hard to quiet my soul, to let my spirit catch up with my body, and now a bit depressed I have to do it all over again. But its part of the experience I’ve come to expect. One of the others who has been coming here off and on for 30 years says “there is only one rule to this place, keep you mouth shut…do that long enough and all sorts of stuff comes up you need to deal with.”

[The Beach]

I came knowing what I had to deal with: I needed to find my way back to the happy little associate pastor place. You see my lead pastor had taken an eleven week leave of absence, and left me in charge all through Lent and the five weeks proceeding it. Being in charge, I unpacked a whole box of lead pastor tools that wouldn’t work so well if he returned from leave. He did, and as part of our negotiations before he left, he drove me to the Greyhound station this stay at Lebh Shomea. The plan was to wipe down my lead pastor tools, and pack them away. As my previous senior pastor told me, “Steve, a Church can have only one pastor,” but that God St. Philip’s isn’t that kind of church.

So during my days here I’ve studied Rob Bell’s amazing new book Love Wins, involved myself in a lengthy Bible study on healing, reading books on Sabbath, healing, The Gospel of Thomas (which I’ve read every time I’ve come here), learning to pray in the Celtic Iona tradition. I thought about changes I want to make in my ministry and practice of life and took long walks and a ridiculous number of pictures.

Up Next: Listening…